Not so long ago, I got into a fight with Ian on his blog about whether Bethlehem and Nazareth existed at the time Ian's Redeemer was supposedly born in the one town and supposedly lived in the other. For me, this a relatively trivial matter. I will not fall on my knees if I am proven wrong; I doubt that any archaeological or historical evidence is likely to prove that this man was indeed the son of God, even if it were to show that such a man lived. The numerous contradictions, inconsistencies and inaccuracies of the books of the Bible are a matter of interest but are not the basis of my faithlessness.
For Ian, on the other hand, matters like this are crucial. The Bible is the inerrant word of God and so all the evidence available must support its claims. Never mind that the Gospels contain several different accounts which contradict one another (how many angels were in the tomb; how many women saw the resurrected Christ; and who were all those Marys?) Never mind that there is not a shred of evidence to support the story of the Hebrew captivity in Egypt, which we were taught so often in Scripture classes as an historic fact. Never mind that the Crucifixion was marked by the dead rising from their graves and roaming the streets of Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52-53), yet no-one who was around at this time thought it necessary to record the event. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as all good fundies are taught in their Apologetics classes. As for the apparent inconsistencies, they are merely the fault of the reader who has not studied the Scriptures with sufficient scholarship; the reader who, unlike Ian, does not have "something in the region of 150 mostly-hardbound books in Christianity and religion" in his "personal library."
I grew tired of my spat with Ian quite soon after I had started it. Biblical Archaeology is not my subject and I have no wish to write one of those dismal Atheist tracts that claim to refute the entire Christian faith on the grounds that the Bible is not quite a work of history. It really doesn't matter to me. The argument took a turn onto more favourable ground when Ian claimed that Immanuel Kant was an agnostic but I soon realised that no amount of quotations from the Critique of Practical Reason would change his mind on that point. So I left the arena.
Lo (and behold) Ian is still fighting this battle. In the February edition, Ian has written a piece called Atheism for Dummies. And it is all about me. Well, its all about my opinions on the Bethlehem-Nazareth matter, Immanuel Kant having been forgotten. Ian concludes that Atheists like me have not read the right books and come to the right opinions:
What saddens me however is that most of my non-believing critics have probably never actually read a 1000 page systematic theology text or gone through analyses of the so-called "discrepancies" in the Bible to work out whether they really exist or not. Nor have they checked the ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic words the Bible was written in and understood the many variances and permutations of words used.As I said, it is not that important to me. I shall not be spending my Summer learning Hebrew and Aramaic. I have learned enough of the Bible's history to know that it was put together by committees, centuries after the events it describes were supposed to have occurred, from sources that contradicted one another and which could hardly be described as reliable.
Even if it were all true, if all the literature fitted all the history seamlessly, that would not make me a Believer. Admittedly, I would give pause for thought if a first-hand account of the zombies in Jerusalem came to light but I think that unlikely. I know enough about History to realise that it is a modern invention, dating from the 18th Century, as does most of the modern world. Before then, most accounts of events were written to persuade, not to describe (you could also say that about a lot of modern works that claim to be History, but that is another story). Writers in the First Century did not think historically; they didn't sift evidence and try build an argument from facts. They wrote stories.
The difference between fact and fiction which we post-Enlightenment types value is not a feature of the ancient world. Even the Roman Historians (who are about the closest to reliable sources we can find) were writing propaganda for the Emperors who were their patrons. They would not have let an inconvenient truth get in the way of the story. The writers of the Gospels were less disinterested still: they had no access to historical documents and no concern with them. They weaved stories from what they had heard or read elsewhere.
I could go on, but it is hardly worth it. Believers like Ian want to convince others that their faith has grounds in fact, that it is reasonable in the same way that a belief in the sun rising tomorrow is reasonable (despite David Hume's arguments to the contrary). I don't think that Faith with a capital F works like that. Its beliefs are in the supernatural and cannot be correlated with the facts of the world around us. As Gibbon observed, God in His wisdom decided to stop producing miracles a long time back. Since then, He has not done much to help his adherents prove their arguments.
I won't go on for another reason: I have another fish to fry. In giving me some free publicity and potentially a new readership of soy milk-abstainers, Ian refers to the Fundy Post as an online journal for fundamentalist atheists. I am sorry, but did I miss something? What in heaven or on earth is a fundamentalist atheist? I don't know about you, but the only thing fundamental about my atheism is that I do not believe in a supreme being. Neither do I believe in ghouls and ghosties and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night, but that is beside the point. I don't disbelieve in one God, maker of heaven and earth. I don't specifically deny the existence of Ian's God or of any other. What makes me an atheist is not disbelief but an absence of belief.
My atheism is of the 'now leave me alone' variety. I have as much difficulty explaining this to some Humanists as I do to believers. I am not interested in the elaborate arguments constructed by some atheist philosophers to disprove the existence of God (who for some reason is almost always the Christian God with a capital G, rather than any other kind of lower-case god). I don't think they prove anything beyond the bleeding obvious, that God defies logic. Any Jesuit could have told you that.
I do not have an alternative belief system to offer in place of a religious belief. Please do not ask me for a reading list. I have no shortage of opinions and preferences about all manner of things but I have no answers to the Big Questions, for the simple reason that I do not think they make sense.
I am also uninterested in making converts. I have several friends who are Christian (although their Christianity is very different from Ian's) and I am not going to insult them by trying to prove them wrong. Their Christian beliefs are very important to them and don't seem to have done them any harm. They have beliefs I do not share; but so what? We have more in common than we have differences, which is why we are friends. It doesn't bother me that other people hold religious beliefs. They can and they will.
Finally, in case we should meet and you have a religious belief you want to share, I am not interested in lengthy arguments about said belief; I find them tedious. It's not about you. It's just that I like arguments to have sound premises and conclusions. I do not think arguments for religious belief are well-formed. If that sounds harsh, I don't think they should. Faith is not the same as other forms of belief. If it is any consolation, I do not think that arguments against religious beliefs are particularly enlightening either. It still bewilders me, after many years of such arguments, why so many believers and non-believers alike assume that God must be good. I also think Metaphysics is a load of tosh, but that is another story.
All this might come as a disappointment to Ian, who holds that Atheism is a faith-based belief system. If he were to read the Fundy Post, he might just realise that it is not about Atheism as such, or any belief system. I write it because I don't like people who use their religious beliefs to stick it to others who live according to their own precepts. I don't like small-minded authoritarians, religious or otherwise, who demand that everyone think the same was as they do. I don't like bigots who disguise their prejudice as theology. The Fundy Post is not about religion. It is about religious politics.